Menu Close

The Duke Of Edinburgh’s Secret To A Long Life

prince phillip scaled

Last updated on April 10th, 2021 at 10:19 AM

He’s been the Queen’s constant companion for the past seven decade, but the Duke of Edinburgh has died aged 99, Buckingham Palace has announced.

A statement from Buckingham Palace on April 9 said: “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.”

As the longest-serving consort to a British monarch and the oldest-ever male member of the royal family, there’s a thing or two we could all learn from Prince Philip about living a long and full life.

The Cartier Trophy – Guards Polo Club
The Duke of Edinburgh at the Guards Polo Club in 2018 (Steve Parsons/PA)

As famous for his love of sports as he was for his dry wit, Philip remained in remarkably good shape over the decades, right up until recent years, when he became plagued with age-related health problems – including undergoing  a recent procedure for a pre-existing heart condition.

He saw 14 different prime ministers in power, fathered four children, had eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren – all while serving as patron to more than 800 organisations.

Royalty – Cowes Week – Duke of Edinburgh – Isle of Wight
Taking the helm of Yeoman XXVI at Cowes Week in 1957 (Ron Bell/PA)

No matter what your age, Philip serves as a reminder that having an active and healthy lifestyle can have a major influence on how long you live – and the good news is, that you don’t need to have blue-blooded lineage or a royal fortune to do the same.

Here are just a few lessons to take from his long and fascinating life…

1. He kept active

Sailing – Cowes Regatta – Isle of Wight
Sailing the ‘Coweslip’ at the Cowes Regatta in 1957 (PA Archive)

When he wasn’t attending to royal duties, Philip’s free time was famously jam-packed with outdoor pursuits. After serving as a commander in the Royal Navy for many years, it was only natural that he would develop a lifelong love for sailing – a passion that saw many royal family holidays spent at sea, aboard Philip’s beloved Bloodhound yacht.

He was also a keen polo player in his heyday, but after retiring in 1971, he took up carriage driving instead – a high-octane equestrian sport that involves racing horse-drawn carriages through the countryside. He loved the adrenaline-pumping dash of the sport so much, he even represented Britain in three European championships and six world championships.

Royalty – Ferguson Horse Driving Trials and Country Fair – Duke of Edinburgh – Lowther
Prince Philip, driving the Queen’s team of Bays, crosses the river Lowther in 1973 (PA Archive)

But it was not all polo in the park and yachting in the summer – while you might expect the royals to have a personal trainer at their beck and call, reports suggest that Philip kept his daily workout routine surprisingly cheap and cheerful.

He was known to drill through a basic HIIT routine every day, which helped to keep him in famously good shape.

Polo – Cowdray Park Gold Cup – Midhurst, Sussex
In the polo paddock in the 1960s (PA Archive)

It’s called 5BX – ‘five basic exercises’ – and was devised by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1950s, so that their recruits could still maintain a good level of fitness, even if they were away from home for long periods of time.

The aerobic workout uses – you guessed it – five basic exercises to strengthen every muscle in the body: stretching, sit-ups, back extensions, push-ups and running in place, all crammed into an 11-minute window.

2. He stayed the same size his whole life

All those sit-ups clearly paid off, as Philip, more or less, retained the same trousers measurements throughout the decades. In fact, he was rumoured to still be able to still fit into the same naval uniform he wore on his wedding day.

Equestrian – Windsor Horse Show – Day Two – Windsor Castle
At the Windsor Horse show in Berkshire in 2017 (Steve Parsons/PA)

Keeping off any excess weight undoubtedly played a part in Philip’s long life, as by remaining slim, he significantly reduced his risk of developing multiple health conditions including cancer and diabetes.

Just weeks before Philip’s 96th birthday his long-standing personal tailor, John Kent from Kent, Haste & Lachter, told the Telegraph: “He’s got a fabulous physique. There’s not an ounce of fat on him, which is why he wears his clothes so well. He’s very well proportioned. He’s got fairly long legs, and he doesn’t carry much weight.

“He was a 31in waist when I first measured him, and he’s now only a 34. That’s incredible. I’ve never had to let out any of his clothes.”

Royal Queen Wedding 11
Prince Philip on his wedding day in 1947 (PA Archive)

3. He didn’t drink to excess

While the Queen is rumoured to enjoy a gin and tonic, The Telegraph reports Philip only consumed small amounts of alcohol.

When he did indulge in a drink, he mostly stuck to beer, and was known to be partial to a pint of Boddingtons Bitter.

Equestrian – Gieves Carriage Driving Championships – Cirencester Park
Enjoying a pint of beer during a break in the Gieves Carriage Driving Championships in 1966 (PA Archive)

Studies have long argued the pros and cons of having a tipple, but binge drinking is known to have both short-term and long-term harmful effects, increasing the risk of cancer, kidney problems, liver disease and high blood pressure.

4. He ate a low-carb diet

Philip’s diet has been a source of mystery over the years, but royal chefs have hinted that he enjoyed eating a low-carbohydrate diet, similar to the Atkins Diet.

That means he prioritised meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, high-fat dairy and healthy oils, while cutting out sugary desserts, wheat, trans fats, starchy fruit and vegetables, and legumes.

Duke of Edinburgh admitted to hospital
Leaving King Edward VII Hospital in London after suffering a chest infection in 2008 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

There are conflicting reports about the effectiveness of low-carb diets on life expectancy, but they can definitely help you keep weight off, and some studies have suggested they can lower the risk of obesity-related illnesses too.

5. He gave up smoking decades ago

Undoubtedly one of the biggest things that Philip did for his health was giving up smoking cigarettes in 1947, shortly before his marriage to the Queen.

We all know that smoking is bad for us, but research has shown that smoking reduces your life expectancy by a whopping seven to eight years, while on average, each cigarette shortens your life anywhere from seven to 11 minutes.

Polo at Guards Polo Club
Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh during the polo at the Guards Polo Club in 2018 (Steve Parsons/PA)

Due to the Queen’s concerns about her father’s death (George VI suffered from lung cancer) Philip, rather remarkably, went cold turkey on his smoking habit overnight – demonstrating his impressive willpower.

6. He was lucky with immunity

He struggled with his health in recent years, but in 2016, Philip confided an astounding secret to the press: that he had not suffered from flu for 40 years.

That means no coughs, splutters or sick days. The reason? A combination of good diet and regular exercise gave him an iron-clad immune system that enabled him to fight off the yearly cold and flu viruses, without feeling unwell.

royalty – Prince Philip – Polo – Cowdry Park, Sussex
The Duke of Edinburgh in the 1950s, walking out to mount his horse at Cowdry Park (PA Archive)

7. Kept his mind sharp

The current retirement age in the UK is 66 years, but Philip worked for as long as he could. It was only when he was 96 that the Palace announced he would be stepping back from public duties.

Dubbing himself “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler”, Philip undertook an astonishing 22,191 solo engagements in his lifetime, gave 5,493 speeches and had one of the royal family’s busiest diaries.

The Duke of Edinburgh visits Richmond Adult Community College
The Duke of Edinburgh in 2015, lifting a curtain before unveiling a plaque at Richmond Adult Community College (Matt Dunham/PA)

You might not think it when your alarm goes off in the morning, but working can actually be good for you. As well as reaping the physical benefits of getting out and about, keeping your mind engaged can safeguard your brain health too. In fact, studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia by keeping the brain active, particularly later in life.

8. A sense of humour 

Amongst the royals, Philip was well known for his quick wit – and his good sense of humour meant that he managed to stay upbeat and optimistic.

Royalty – Duke of Edinburgh – Salford University
Sharing a joke with female cleaners during his visit to Salford University in 1973 (PA Archive)

He was released from hospital the day before his 91st birthday, and when asked if he was feeling better, famously replied in his typical humour: “Well, I wouldn’t be coming out if I wasn’t.”

Albert Einstein said his genius was down to having a childlike sense of humour, and studies have shown that people who like to joke tend to be smarter, healthier, and less stressed about their lives.

So next time you’re feeling the pressure of work deadlines? Have a laugh about it – it may just keep ticking over well into your 90s, like the Duke of Edinburgh.